Maniacal performance

The fantastic documentary Free Solo deserves all praise it has received, including its recent Oscar. The film follows one guy’s attempt to climb the vertical face of Yosemite’s El Capitan without ropes. A single slip he dies. I could barely watch it, it was that crazy good. As the climber’s friend put it: this demands an Olympic gold medal performance, except here, if you don’t get the gold, you die. The film has suspense, drama, emotion, and explores maniacal obsession and perfection. Five stars. Now streamable. — KK

Russian Doll on Netflix

In Russian Doll, a video game programmer finds herself in an endless loop of dying and repeating the same day. Each reboot requires her to dig deeper into her own existence, relationships, and trauma to figure out the purpose of the paranormal glitch and try to fix it. It is Groundhog Day meets Twilight Zone meets a life coaching session from hell. It’s great — I finished it in two days. — CD

Getting the Love You Want

I really enjoyed watching the Youtube episode of the Smart Couple Podcast featuring the authors of “Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples.” Harville and Helen share insights on how relationships have evolved over the last few decades and give tips on how to be present with your partner and defuse disagreements. They are such a warm and personable couple that I kind of wish they had their own show I could watch regularly. An updated third edition of their bestselling book was released a couple weeks ago. — CD

AR glimpses

I’ve been writing about the future of Augmented Reality (AR), where you can see virtual things in the real world. Two short video fantasies by Keiichi Matsuda are key illustrations of what could come. One is Hyper-Reality, a overly dense packed layer of information and ads, the other is Merger, a workplace that takes over. Neither are futures I want, but the technology design seems plausible. — KK

Vietnam War masterpiece

I’m late in getting to Ken Burn’s masterpiece The Vietnam War, a 10-part documentary streaming on Netflix. But OMG, it is electrifying. Even though I lived through that war, I apparently knew nothing about it. It would have been easy (and cheap) to stir up a continuous thread of outrage, but instead this monumental work stirs up a continuous thread of clarity and insights: “Oh, so that is why they did that!.” This should be mandatory viewing for all citizens of the US and Vietnam. — KK

YouTube shortcut tips

These YouTube keyboard shortcuts are handy, especially when watching how-to videos. For example pressing the 1 key will make the video start playing at the 10% point, pressing 2 takes you to the 20% point, and so on. The space bar pauses the video, and then you can press the period key to advance one frame at a time. — MF

Global gardens of culture

There are legions of TV shows using food as an excuse to travel, more focusing on history and architecture travel, but only one that I know about features gardens of the world. The host Monty Don, who is an institution in England, travels the world and in a deeply personal and sympathetic manner, uses gardens as his lens into cultures. His Netflix streaming series Italian Gardens and French Gardens are eye-opening and totally refreshing. His previous series Around the World in 80 Gardens is likewise mind-expanding. You won’t look at gardens the same. — KK

Thrilling documentary

Icarus is a Netflix streaming documentary that starts out small. The director has the idea of documenting how elite bicycle racers elude doping tests by doping himself and getting tested. This leads to Russian doping experts, which in turn stumbles into the Russian doping underground, which eventually breaks into the Russian doping scandal, and as the director gets involved with newspapers and FBI, his investigations lead directly to the ban on Russian athletes in the Olympics and an international diplomatic crisis. All the while the director is filming everyone, including the Russian whistleblower, who is put into the US federal witness protection program for fear of Russian assassination. It’s a mind-boggling Oscar-winning documentary that expands bigger and bigger as it proceeds. — KK

Nature live cams

For a dose of awe and wonder head over to Explore.org and choose from almost 100 live nature cams available at any time. There’s ocean cams, bears, gorillas, puppies and kittens and other animal sanctuaries (this sheep barn can be pretty mesmerizing to watch when they’re in for the night). Never a dull moment. — CD

Quirky series about marriage and afterlife

I stumbled across Forever on Amazon Prime having never heard of it. The show stars Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph as a married couple stuck in the same old routine who then die, only to reunite in the afterlife and pick up right where they left off. It’s so funny and unexpectedly romantic. There may or may not be a season 2. Fingers crossed there is, but even if not this 8-episode series feels complete and worth binge-watching. — CD 

Inspiring livelihood documentary

Shorebreak is a fast 60 minute doc on Amazon Prime about this surfer who found a special niche in photography. His thing is standing at the scary point where giant waves break onto the beach while he photographs whatever crazy surfers are in the wave, before he ducks under the pummeling mountain. The doc is well done, his photography is stunning. But what I love is the lesson of focus, enthusiasm, mastery, and foolish individualization. His relentless enthusiasm, going back to the shorebreak day after day to see if he could make something new again and again, has improbably earned him a living doing this. What a treat! — KK

Bingeable British drama

Ever since the last season of Downton Abbey wrapped up, I’ve missed a good British historical drama. That itch has been satisfied by The Crown (on Netflix) a lovely, beautifully casted and acted drama about the life of the still living Queen of England. The series begins in the 1940s and runs till today. Remarkably, it’s far more entertaining than I would have thought. It has everything, including real drama, and actual history, and is more educational than most documentaries. With 20 episodes so far (and a 3rd season on the way), it is superbly bingeable. — KK

Download YouTube videos

The fastest way to download any YouTube video is to add “ss” before the “youtube.com” part of the URL, like this: “ssyoutube.com”. This redirects to you to Savefrom.net, click on “download video in browser” and select the video quality you prefer. Done in less than a minute. — CD

What to watchClaudia Dawson
YouTube shortcuts

I can’t believe I didn’t know these YouTube shortcuts before! To pause a video press K. To fast forward press L. To rewind press J. To watch frame by frame forward or backward, press the period or comma key. — CD 

What to watchClaudia Dawson
Fast life

Just as I zip through podcasts at 1.5x speed, I recently learned I can speed up YouTube videos too. So now I go through twice as many tutorials. Just click on the gear-circle at the bottom right corner of the YouTube frame, and in the pop-up menu select Speed and your choice up to 2x. — KK

What to watchClaudia Dawson
Scary movie tip

Fargo. the television series, is my favorite thing in the world right now, but watching it makes me very tense. Some life-changing advice when watching something scary or suspenseful: root for the villain. Once I decide I want the bad guy to win, I actually get happy when he pops up out of nowhere or kills someone off. — CD

What to watchClaudia Dawson
Funny film recaps

I’ve been a long time fan of The Editing Room for their hilarious rewrites of movies in screenplay format. They make fun of movie tropes and call out every cliche. Reading their abridged scripts is like watching a movie with a funny friend. — CD

What to watchClaudia Dawson
Read movie spoilers

I stopped watching horror movies a while back, because they seemed to be getting more and more graphic and I couldn’t cut it. Instead, I enjoy reading scene-by-scene spoilers for all the films I am too scared or lazy to watch. The Movie Spoiler is not the best designed site, but it’s been around for a long time and all the reviews are well written. — CD

What to watchClaudia Dawson
Get the average of film ratings

Flixmetrix is a website that combines film ratings from Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB and Metacritic and gives you the average. What I find the most helpful is that I can filter my movie search by genre, and limit results to only those available on Amazon Prime and/or Netflix Watch Instantly. That way I don’t waste time flipping between services searching for a movie. — CD

What to watchClaudia Dawson